Category Archives: video

- Improving Govt Health with a Fiber Diet

Louisiana Immersive Tech Enteprise - click to see more

Louisiana Immersive Tech Enterprise

I was honored to be in Lafayette, Louisiana, this past week for Fiber-Fete. Lafayette is just finishing a City-owned fiber optic network which reaches every home and business. Fiber-Fete was an international gathering to celebrate the innovative work led by Parish President (Mayor) Joey Durel and his team of people from business, non-profits, education, healthcare and government.

Lafayette’s fiber network boasts speeds of 10 megabits per second, both ways, to every home and business in the City, for $29 a month, and 50 megabits both ways for $58. Speeds of 100 megabits or even a gigabit per second are possible very soon. The FCC’s recently released national broadband plan set a goal for much of the United States to achieve such speeds by 2020. But Lafayette virtually has it now, in 2010.

During the conference, one of our breakout groups brainstormed a set of ideas for using this network to improve government and governing. Here are a few of our ideas.

A Mini-Connect Communication Device. The telephone is almost ubiquitous in American homes, with 95% or more of homes having a phone. Land-line penetration is dropping now, of course, as many people use only their cell phones or use voice-over-Internet connections via their computers. An essential device for future premises certainly seems to be a mini-comm, possibly modeled after the mini-tel which was widely deployed in France a few years ago. The mini-comm would be a voice telephone, videophone with a small screen, and potentially have connections for a TV and keyboard to allow it to be used as a web browser to connect to the fiber network. Such a device needs to be cheap and probably subsidized so every home, regardless of income, has one.

The mini-comm has many potential applications beyond phone, videophone and web browser. It would have batteries so it would function even during extended power outages due to natural disasters. It could be activated by government preceding or during such disasters to alert residents to an oncoming hurricane, or the need to evacuate, with further instructions on what to do. It might even have a wi-fi connection so that students who bring laptops home from school (school-issued laptops for all students are another great idea) have connectivity at home.

Video and Web via TV. Ideally, every television set in a home will eventually be internet-enabled with a built-in video camera and web browser. Certainly the latest generation of set-top boxes for cable TV have such functions built in.

Video 311 and 911. With the devices above, anyone who calls 911 with an emergency or 311 for non-emergency access to government services could also activate a two-way video function. For 911, this means the 911 center could view a burglary in progress or domestic violence situation, and help the responding police officers understand what is happening. For medical emergencies the 911 center might be able to activate monitoring devices and understand the known health issues of the caller, thereby better directing care over the mini-comm or to responding emergency medical personnel. Residents might be able to transact a variety of business over the phone/data link, including consultation about potential building plans and permits, more accurate understanding of utility billing issues (especially if smartgrid or automated water/gas/electric metering infrastructure is in place). And even for routine calls or complaints, we could put a “face” on government via a live video chat with a customer service agent.

Public health nurse or Probation Officer virtual visits. Public health officers, human services and probation officers often have an obligation to check upon or visit clients. With the mini-comm or other two way video devices, such visits might be conducted over the network. This would be especially useful if people are quarantined for pandemic flu or other diseases. But it could includes home health monitoring for seniors, and monitoring of people on probation or any reason, but especially for alcohol or drug abuse and sex offenses.

Enhancing public meetings. Public meetings of city/county councils and other public boards or commissions are almost unchanged from 250 years ago. To attend such a meeting, people travel to the meeting room, wait in line, and speak for a closely-timed two or three minutes. Essentially the public meeting becomes a series of usually un-related mini-speeches. With a fiber network, there are some opportunities to enhance such meetings. At a minimum, people who are unable to travel due to work or childcare or disabilities could participate remotely. But using tools such as Google moderator or Ideascale or Microsoft’s Town Hall, participants could also submit questions remotely, and then rank them. The top ranked (“crowdsourced”) questions could then be asked. Indeed, with high-quality video, the people who submitted the highest ranking questions could ask the question her/himself. Meetings could also be enhanced as viewers are able to see PowerPoint or video presentations, or link to web-based documents, at the same time they are watching the meeting.

Virtual Neighborhoods to visualize redesigning a town or do community or neighborhood planning. Lafayette has Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (LITE), where innovative uses for 3D imaging are on development and display. Using these technologies along with some existing data such as Google Maps “bird’s eye view”, Microsoft’s Photosynth and digital orthophotograhy, we could create virtual representations of neighborhoods. Neighborhood planning groups could use these technologies to visualize how their neighborhood would appear with certain changes such as a new apartment building, or a boulevard, or different proposed configurations for a park.

These are just a few of the ideas we brainstormed for government use of such high speed networks. Other Fiber-Fete workgroups addressed uses for education, libraries, utilities, energy, business and much more.

Several facts are certain. Lafayette is the center of innovative Cajun culture plus great Cajun food and music. And this mid-sized city in Louisiana, is leading the nation with this innovative network. In ten years, the applications developed and tested there will be used throughout the nation.

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Filed under broadband, cable, community technology, customer service, fiber, internet, Uncategorized, video

- Schrier to the FCC: Broadband

Fiber Broadband - Click for more

Fiber Broadband - Click for more

This morning the FCC will start a year-long process to craft a “National Broadband Plan for our Future”.

The agenda is here and here’s Ars Technica’s insightful view of the process. The meeting can be viewed live at 10:00 AM (EDT) here, and the video record should be posted at that site after the meeting is finished.

I’ve blogged a number of times about broadband and how I feel the only real “broadband” is fiber-to-the-premise. I feel the United States is in danger of becoming a “third world country” in broadband networks.

Here’s what I’ll tell the FCC Commissioners today (with a little luck, and FTP/Video technology willing):


Good morning Commissioners.

I’m Bill Schrier, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle, and I bring you greetings from “the other Washington”.

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Commission on broadband and its effect upon economic development and jobs.

Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle is the incoming President of the United States Conference of Mayors and has been an outspoken proponent of broadband – and specifically fiber to the premise – since 2005 when a citizen’s commission recommended creation of a symmetric, 25 megabits per second or faster fiber network.

We feel such a network will bring a fundamental change America’s economy – it will affect our way of working and playing as profoundly as did the telegraph, telephone, railroad, and original Internet.

We believe a fiber network is an investment which will last 50 years or more

We believe such a fiber network will carry two-way high-definition video streams. This network can convert every high-definition television set into a video conferencing station. And this addresses a fundamental human need – to actually see our co-workers and friends.

For the first time, working at home – true telework – will be possible because workers can connect with each other and see each other in real time. Whole technology businesses will collaborate on developing 21st century products. Students will be able to attend classes and interact with their classmates from home. Quality of life will improve as families scattered across a region can talk together while actually seeing each other.

Such a network can significantly reduce commute trips and travel. This, in turn, reduces our dependence upon imported oil and reduces the production of greenhouse gases.

You are launching this momentous task of creating a national broadband strategy. I urge you to think of fiber broadband with two-way video and similar applications as a fundamentally new economic network for America. I urge you to think in decades, not years. And, again, on behalf of the people of Seattle and Mayor Greg Nickels, thank you for listening.


I also had an ex parte meeting regarding the definition of “broadband” with FCC staff on March 31st. The public record of my statements at the meeting are here.

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- U.S.: Third World Broadband

Fiber Broadband - click for map

Fiber Broadband

The new fedgov stimulus bill was signed into law and it contains $6.3 billion to expand broadband in the United States.  Hooray!  The problem of Internet access in the United States is solved, right?

Hah!  Not by a long-shot.

The U. S. is 15th in the world in broadband penetration.  And our primary technologies used for broadband are still cable modems and phone companies’ Digital Subscriber Link (DSL).  Cable modems give relatively high speed – 6 to 30 megabits per second, but that speed is shared among dozens or hundreds of households.  And it is typically much slower “upload” rather than download.
DSL gives a dedicated connection to each user, but still, typically, at relatively low speeds such as 1, 2 or 7 megabits per second, and, again, much slower on the upload rather than download.

Now, you might think “gee a million bits a second is really fast”.  Yes, yes it is, if you are reading static websites or doing e-mail.  But the future of the “net” is video – and not the grainy, jerky (no pun intended), YouTube variety, but HDTV.  And HDTV requires 6 megabits per second each way.  Read on …

Most developed nations deploying “broadband” are NOT doing cable modems or coax or DSL or copper.  They are deploying fiber optic cable to each household and business. S eoul and Tokyo have deployed.  Amsterdam and Paris and Venice and Singapore are deploying.

A few forward thinking cities in the United States are – on their own – also deploying fiber to each premise.  Lafayette, Louisiana, Clarksville and Chattanooga and Pulaski and Jackson Tennessee are examples.  (See a great map of fiber deployments here.)

The beauty of fiber broadband is really high speed – 100 megabits-per-second or more, and true, two-way, symmetric networking.  These are networks capable of downloading whole movies in HDTV in a few minutes.  Or networks which can stream two-way HDTV so that every home/business can be an HDTV studio or a video conference/telework center or give people a phenomenal new Internet gaming experience.

Think about working at home, and joining meetings via HDTV video conference with quality so great you can actually watch your co-workers sweating.  With HDTV quality you can actually participate!  Or how about having your high school kid join a virtual HDTV classroom for that college-credit advanced placement class.  Or having your grandparents join you and their grandkids for dinner – several nights a week – using HDTV.  Think of the difference in their lives (maybe NOT yours!).
These same networks can be used to manage the energy use and carbon footprint of homes and businesses and buildings.  These are networks capable of telehealth and telemedicine – visiting your nurse or doctor from home and they can SEE you in HDTV.

And what will the fedgov broadband stimulus deliver?  Well, there is $2.5 billion for broadband to “rural areas” via the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Services.

In terms of urban areas, a lot of the requirements are still to be determined before $4.7 billion in stimulus grants are awarded.  The funds need to be spent in unserved or underserved areas.  But what does that mean?  Compared to the fiber deployments being undertaken elsewhere in the world, most places in the United States – other than those served by Verizon FIOS – are “underserved” because we only have DSL and cable.  How fast is this proposed stimulus-funded broadband?  Is it 256kb per second, or a megabit or 100 megabits?  Is it symmetric or is a very slow upload speed acceptable?

The fedgov NTIA ( National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration) has published in the Federal Register an extensive list of such questions for us all to answer to help design their program.

I certainly hope this great new stimulus package will not just try to extend DSL or cable Internet and call that “broadband”.  I hope the NTIA and Agriculture stay true to the Obama administration’s goals of being bold, inventive, and innovative.  And, with this broadband stimulus, they don’t try to make the United States a “better” third world nation in terms of broadband, but rather sponsor projects which show the way for the future of a truly high-speed, two-way-HDTV-networked world.

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- Two Way Presidential Debates

The Famous Five O'Clock Shadow Debate

The Famous Five O

A highlight of the recent Presidential campaign were the three Presidential debates. In my neighborhood, our good friends Teresa and Joe (the marketeer, not the plumber) sponsored debate parties, which were a great neighborhood-building event. We crowded into their living room around the big-screen HDTV, and alternately cheered and cried as each debate proceeded. We made dozens of pithy and funny comments (all our comments were both pithy and funny, although some were in questionable taste). We suggested pointed comebacks for the candidates. We had fun. We were that most basic unit of democracy – neighbors and friends.

The 2008 debates pioneered new uses of technology. In at least one primary debate, questions came from YouTube. MySpace and MTV hosted one-candidate town halls with questions submitted via instant messaging and e-mail. Twitter was used extensively, I’m sure, for debate comments. And with the 140 character limit, I’m sure the comments were concise, if not pithy! CNN even tried to gauge voter sentiment, second-by-second during the debate, via a set of graphs powered by three groups of captive voters, a tactic which was interesting but disparaged by most observers.

Televised debates have been a staple of presidential campaigns since the infamous 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, the first of which was lost by Tricky Dick’s five o’clock shadow. In these “hi-tech” debates of 2008, I see the seeds of an interesting technology future for our still-young democracy.

My initial idea is a relatively simple one, but hard to realize. My friends Joe and Teresa have a widescreen HDTV. My household has an HDTV. With the digital transition in February, 2009, even more households will have digital or HD televisions.

A few months ago I purchased an HD-camcorder at Radio Shack for $200. I just use it to take video of my three-year old, but suppose I hooked it up to the HDTV, and suddenly we had a two-way HD video stream? And we did that in every household. And suddenly, instead of having a Democracy where we observe a debate, we could participate in it. Instead of having hundreds of people drive (polluting the air) to a town hall meeting to interact with candidates, we’d have a virtual town hall with HD video feeds from households all over the City (Think “second life”, but with real faces instead of avatars.)

Now, clearly that won’t work with a Presidential debate with 70 million households watching. But there are a LOT of elected officials in this country. There are debates for Governor, Mayor, City Council and even Sewer Commissioner. Constituents are interested and sometimes quite passionate about these races, and may be quite interested in participating from their living rooms.

Of course two-way HDTV requires bandwidth. A LOT of bandwidth. And present DSL or coaxial cable networks won’t support that sort of two-way bandwidth from dozens or hundreds of houses in a neighborhood at once. Fiber-to-the-premise will be needed, and I suspect that will still be somewhat rare for some time to come, unless you are lucky enough to live in a place served by Verizon FIOS or a municipal utility such as Lafayette, Louisiana, or Clarksville, Tennessee. Those cities will have a bit more democracy than the rest of us, I guess.

1960 was the year of debate cosmetics (five o’clock shadow), 2000 was the year of the candidate websites, 2004 was Howard Dean’s year of Internet organizing, and 2008 was the year of IM and twittering. I’m not sure what new technology will take 2012 by storm, but I’m certain that eventually two-way HDTV will make us all active participants in elections.

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- Emmys for Government TV?

A "Northwest" Emmy

A "Northwest" Emmy

Tonight (Sept. 14th) I watched The Daily Show receive an Emmy for Outstanding TV Series. Last night (Sept. 13th) I watched – in person – the Seattle Channel – Seattle City Government’s own Channel 21-  receive the national award for Excellence in Government Programming – essentially being named “Best Government TV Channel” for a large city.

Even more amazing, the Seattle Channel also consistently wins Emmy Awards.  What’s the catch here?  How can a broadcast of the Seattle City Council’s Finance and Budget Committee compete with Desperate Housewives or The Daily Show for an Emmy Award?

Well, unfortunately, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn’t recognize government television stations as members or the Seattle City Council when making those awards for Outstanding Drama Series (or maybe it would be “Comedy” series).

View the Seattle Channel

View the Seattle Channel

But almost every City and County government has a television station or at least television programming. And many are members of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA – pronounced nah-toe-ah).  NATOA conducts a juried competition for city/county television programming each year in 63 categories.  NATOA’s annual conference just ended in Atlanta with its gala awards banquet Saturday night, September 13th.  The Seattle Channel (www.seattlechannel.org) took home six “first place” awards in those 63 categories, including that overall “Excellence in Government Programming” for stations with an operating budget over $500,000.  Remarkably, the Seattle Channel now has won this honor two years in a row, 2007 and 2008.

TV programming in many other outstanding cities such as Tucson, Carlsbad California, Aurora, Colorado, and Prince William County Virginia was also recognized. A complete list of the categories and nominations are on NATOA’s website here  and the list of the winners will be posted later this week on the NATOA website.

While the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn’t recognize government programming, local chapters of the Academy do give their own Emmys each year. Government and public television stations do participate, and the Seattle Channel consistently brings back two or more Emmy awards from the Northwest Chapter each year.

Many smaller cities and counties only have the budget to broadcast meetings (“all meetings, all the time”)  But innovative governments find ways to budget for creative programming which highlights the issues in their communities.

The Seattle Channel has an outstanding news magazine, City Inside/Out, hosted by C. R. Douglas (won two first place 2008 NATOA awards).  C. R. drills down into the issues, and occasionally “grills” elected officials about their positions.  And the Seattle Channel has a whole series of programming – ArtZone – which highlights the music, visual and literary arts scene in Seattle.

And the coolest thing?   Not only is it all free, but it is all free online.   Anyone, anywhere in the world with an Internet connection can watch any of the Seattle Channel’s programming at any time.  Just go to www.seattlechannel.org and … well … “click”.

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- Future Television

Cricket in the Kitchen

Cricket in the Kitchen

Original post:  28 May 2008
Brier Dudley, Seattle Times Technology Columnist, stays on the leading edge of Seattle-area technology.  His article in Monday’s (May 26th – Memorial Day) Times’ business section described the work of Microsoft TV via an interview with Enrique Rodriquez.   I’ll let you read the column here, along with an announcement by Microsoftabout touch-screen technology which - although available in tablet computers today – will apparently be integral to the next, post-Vista, version of Windows.   These developments helped crystalize some ideas of mine.
It is actually somewhat amazing that the commodity personal computer has been around since 1981 (thank you, IBM), along with a “video screen”.  Yet we’ve never successfuly melded it with that much more ubiquitous video screen – the TV.   It seems natural that TV’s should be computer monitors and computers should be TV’s.   Yet that marriage has been slow coming.
I certainly envision the day when most rooms in most homes have a flat-panel touch-screen TV.  Besides watching television and getting video on demand, there are a hundred applications for such a technology:  
• Web browsing, perhaps linked to a TV program.  How many times have you seen something interesting on TV and immediately gone to google … er … “Microsoft search” the subject for more information?
• And with a touch-screen, we get rid of all those damned remotes (three of the little goobers are within 15 inches of my left hand as I write this).  And maybe it is time for the “death of the mouse?”
• Interactive gaming (“Warcraft” or “Sim City” whatever the hot game is today) using a touchscreen. 
• Controlling all the appliances and utilities in your house (gee, did I turn the furnace down?).
• Two-way video calls (having a grandpa like me “virtually” over for dinner with my grandkids – well, my grandkid actually lives in the basement, but if she didn’t I’d want to make a video call often!).   Video telecommuting. 
• People could call 911 at the touch of a button (perhaps TOO easily), activate a camera and actually have an emergency medical technician or police dispatcher view an emergency.
All we need is really high speed broadband (“fiber to the premise”) and for Microsoft’s TV unit to succeed.  Go for it Enrique!

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- 3 Dimensional HDTV

ASU's Decision Theater - click for more

ASU's Decision Theater - click for more

Original post:  20 May 2008
Robert Atkinson, research policy director for the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (there’s a mouthful) has some provocative thoughts about really high speed broadband – “ultrabroadband”, at least as reported by Jon Van in a recent Chicago Tribute article.   Atkinson believes new technologies such as “three dimensional HDTV” will need such high speeds.  He also thinks about ultrabroadband as almost a natural monopoly in some markets, but competition is required in the largest markets to “provide benchmarks for what to expect in service, technology and price”.
This is pretty much what we’ve been saying in Seattle for some time – going back to the 2005 report of our Task force on Telecommunications Innovation.   That report decried the lack of telecommunications and cable competition in Seattle.   See my entry from May 16th (“Wireless with a Kirkland Signature …”) for more details about lack of competition here.
A whole host of new services and applications could take advantage of ultrabroadband.   In the Tribune article Atkinson specifically calls out 3D HDTV, really high quality video conferencing and telecommuting instead of paying for office space.   And many others could be added:  multiple HDTV streams to homes and businesses or “from” homes and business (imagine broadcasting in HDTV from your home!  Talk about the ultimate in “public access’!).   The folks at the University of Washington and elsewhere are experimenting with 3 dimensional “decision theaters” and superHDTV with four times the quality of HDTV (think about a TV screen covering the WALL of your living room).  High quality multi-player gaming will probably drive the need for ultrabroadband.
Qwest DSL and Cable Company Internet service won’t cut it in the world Atkinson sees.    But that’s what Seattle – with no true competition – will be stuck with while 3D HDTV comes to Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

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1984

Is Big Brother Watching Seattle's Parks?

Is Big Brother Watching Seattle's Parks?

Original Post: 22 April 2008
One of the most terrifying aspects of the movie 1984 (author George Orwell) was the omnipresent “eye” – (I’m talking about the 1956 movie version staring Edmond O’Brien, not the 1984 version with John Hurt).   I remember seeing it as a teenager (I was a teenager, not the movie) in the 1960s.   And I really remember the flashing eye everywhere – on the street, in offices, in Edmond O’Brien’s room.   As a teenager, the possibility of this total lack of privacy was pretty scary.  

Video Cameras in Seattle Parks
Today the Seattle City Council had its first public hearing about cameras which the City has placed in Cal Anderson Park.  There is a significant concern by the ACLU and others about placing these cameras around the City, having “the government” (i.e. the Police, Parks Department or even City technology employees) able to view the video.  
Yet there have been hundreds of crimes and thousands of phone calls asking for police service in this park over the last few years.  Clearly many members of the public who use that park or live near it are concerned for their safety.

Crime and Video
Will placing a video camera in high crime areas deter crime?   Perhaps, but probably not.  I visited the Chicago 911 Center and Police Headquarters in December, 2007.  Chicago has deployed several hundred PODs – police observation devices or video cameras.   They record crimes in progress all the time.  Very rarely are the crimes directly observed.   More often, a call to 911 triggers a quick search of stored video to find a stored video of the crime.   And this is even though the PODs are clearly marked and pretty obvious to any passer by.   But if PODs don’t deter crime, why install them?   They result in rapid apprehension and almost sure conviction of perpetrators.  And those criminals are off the street, not out there committing more crimes.

Seattle and 1984
Should we fear 1984 coming true in 2008?  I don’t think so, at least from the – all the City’s video is a public record which any member of can request to view or copy.  And all such cameras are placed in public spaces – streets, parks, City buildings, where there is no expectation of privacy.  Indeed, I’d want to put video from such cameras on a public website – just like traffic cameras – so anyone anywhere could view the video.  And, as a father whose family has been victimized by violent crime, I’m a wholehearted supporter of more cameras in public spaces controlled by your government and open to your review and inpsection.
But maybe we should be concerned about 1984 from another source – the thousands of private video cameras set up to deter crime in 7-11 stores, banks, in parking lots and stores.   Who is watching those cameras?  How is that video stored and used?  Who has access to those video records?   I don’t know.  Perhaps we should ask George Orwell.

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